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Experimental efforts within black metal seems to be on the rise, not only with veteran bands such as Sigh releasing yet another brand new album this year, but also in the form of new bands attempting to push the boundaries of extreme metal. Greek band Hail Spirit Noir releases their debut full length album, Pneuma this year under Code666 Records, home to numerous other experimental bands as well.
All the weirdness begins as the album opens with Mountain of Horror, first being introduced to sounds of wilderness before a somewhat pleasant yet weird and (almost deliberately) awkward riffs come in, with the feel of a psychedelic record. And things get even more interesting as synths join in as well, and the entire atmosphere instantly reminds listeners of bands such as Sigh, though there is a considerably more doomish feel, at least for the first part of the track. But as the track progresses, there are some old-school progressive metal elements that are spotted as well, such as the sudden speed up of the tempo in the music, and the entire cacophony is somewhat reminiscent of Opeth's latest offering, Heritage, but with a more powerful edge to it. The resemblance to bands like Opeth is especially evident through the synths of Haris and also the way these are utilised throughout the album to create a somewhat haunting yet oddly calming atmosphere at the same time.
While the core lineup of Hail Spirit Noir comprises only two members (Theo and Haris), the session and guest musicians on the album are each extremely versatile. First, Theo displays his vocal ranges through not only the usage of savage growls, but also with the clean and emotion-laden singing on tracks like Let Your Devil Come Inside. The clean vocals on When All is Black in particular brings about a theatrical element, with the stellar and dramatic vocal performance on the track. His guitar playing also draws wide influences, and this can be heard through the unexpected bluesy solo on Against the Curse, We Dream. Aside from the core members, bassist Dim also litters the album with quirky bass licks, spicing things up on top of everything else that is going on around, and drummer Ioannis shifts between different styles with ease, and this is clearest on tracks where there is a sudden shift from an almost psychedelic rock style to a pure, full-on black metal blasting segment like on Let Your Devil Come Inside.
As one would already expect, this album is filled with weird-fuckery going on throughout and the band often throws curveballs towards the listeners with unexpected twists, with tracks like Against the Curse, We Dream being one of the more "normal" tracks with a more predictable pattern. Aside from the sudden and seemingly random shifts in tempo on certain tracks, the incorporation and fusion of elements from a wide range of genres could get those who are used to more traditional forms of extreme metal to get used to, though fans of bands like Sigh could get into Pneuma without much trouble. What is also captivating about the album is the emphasis on the atmosphere on the album, and the feelings that the band has incorporated and also managed to invoke through the songwriting.
As the album progresses, comparisons with releases such as Opeth's Heritage will inevitably come about with the band's style of progressive metal, but Pneuma manages to stand out with the amount of activity that is going on at any point in time, allowing Hail Spirit Noir to stand as a beast in its own rights. Sure, first listen was definitely difficult to sit through, but the album really grows on the listener, and the listener discovers more as well, giving new found satisfaction with each additional listen, especially on the epic Into the Gates of Time.